Spinal Cord Injuries from Bicycle Accidents
Colliding with a motor vehicle while on a bicycle, being side-swiped, striking an open car door or object in the street that causes you to lose control or be ejected forcefully from your bike can lead to spinal cord injuries (SCIs).
Your spine consists of 31 pairs of nerves connecting to your limbs, chest, and abdomen that relay signals to your brain to control these functions. These nerves also control the function of your heart, lungs, bladder and bowel. Touch, pain, and sensitivity to temperature and other stimuli emanate from the nerves housed by the cord. Naturally, any injury to your cord can disrupt these functions and sensations or shut them down altogether.
Unlike muscles or tendons in most cases, the spinal cord lacks the ability to repair itself. If damaged, you could suffer a permanent disability.
A SCI means that you suffered some degree of paralysis. If a complete injury, it means that you have total loss of function and feeling in the area below the injury. If incomplete, you retain some function or sensation in the area below the injury site.
Trauma to the cervical area can lead to paralysis of your arms and legs. It can also cause breathing difficulties that require the use of a respirator or ventilator. If to the lower back, then you risk paralysis of your legs. This can also affect bladder and bowel function and loss of sexual function.
Getting prompt treatment following a SCI is critical. A patient should only be moved by trained personnel who will immobilize and immediately take the victim to the emergency room. There, doctors will order x-rays followed by an MRI or CT scan that are more capable of identifying injuries not seen on x-rays. An MRI can also show damage inside the cord.
The victim may be given high doses of steroids that reduce inflammation and further damage but which should only be administered within 8 hours of the injury. Surgery usually follows to relieve pressure on the spine and to remove pieces of vertebrae compressing the cord. Stabilizing the spinal cord is achieved by inserting screws, rods, and plates to hold the vertebrae together.
Physical therapy following the accident can sometimes restore some function and prevent further damage. If a particular function or area of sensation is not restored to some degree within 12-months, then the injury to that part of the body is likely to be permanent. However, new therapies, drugs, and devices are continually being developed to help those suffering from paralysis.
Other complications of SCI include:
- Bowel incontinence
- Lung infections including pneumonia
- Urinary incontinence
- Blood clots
- Chronic pain
- Extreme depression
The cost of treating a spinal injury can be enormous. A victim will also need expenses for rehabilitation, counseling, assistive devices and in retrofitting their car and home. In-home assistance or care may be needed until the victim adjusts to a new lifestyle.